This article was originally published by the Pioneer News of Shepherdsville, KY on October 15. You can view the article at http://bit.ly/2xMHj8M (pay wall).
By Griffin Coop
Two Mount Washington residents are headed to the Breeders’ Cup. Thanks to one of the year’s biggest upsets, Mount Washington’s Wayne Spalding and Faron McCubbins will start five-year-old gelding Bullards Alley in the $4 million Longines Turf at Del Mar Race Course on Saturday.
Post time is 7:37 p.m. EDT for the race, which will air on NBC Sports Network.
Bullards Alley catapulted himself into Breeders’ Cup contention on October 15 when he won the Pattison Canadian International Stakes by a whopping 10 ¾ lengths at Toronto’s Woodbine Racetrack. Before heading to Canada, Bullards Alley had not won in his last 15 starts, dating back to July of last year. Having never run in a Grade-1 race, Bullards Alley left the starting gate as a 43-to-1 longshot but crossed the finish line as the surprise winner and a Breeders’ Cup contender.
“I was just waiting for the other horses to start creeping up on him,” Spalding said. “I was looking for the finish line, hoping he would make it, then he just kept drawing away and drawing away. It was a complete surprise.”
A Late Night
Spalding bought Bullards Alley in 2014 thanks to a good eye for horses and a lot of patience. Spalding, who owns Spalding Construction in Mount Washington, was attending a sale at Fasig-Tipton in Lexington when the sale extended into the night. Near the end of a long day in which 284 horses were sold, Spalding bought Bullards Alley for $11,000.
“He was just one of the last horses at the sale,” Spalding said. “It was 10:30 or 11:00 at night when I bought him. Everybody about went home.”
Spalding was naturally attracted to Bullards Alley’s pedigree. Bred by Canadian businessman Eugene Melnyk, Bullards Alley was born to run. His sire, Flower Alley, won more than $2.5 million on the track and finished second in the 2005 Breeders’ Cup Classic before siring 2012 Kentucky Derby winner I’ll Have Another. His dam, Flower Forest, was a stakes-winning four-year-old whose own sire, Kris S, was one of the most successful stallions of his generation.
“The pedigree (attracted me) and he was a nice straight horse and he vetted out good,” said Spalding, referring to the positive veterinary inspection of the horse. “Kind of something that I was looking for. He looked like he had another growing spurt in him and he did.”
A few days after the sale, Spalding asked his friend McCubbins if he would like to take on a half ownership of the young horse and McCubbins, who also works in the Mount Washington construction industry, agreed. Bullards Alley, however, took some time to adjust to his new environment at Spalding’s seven-acre Mount Washington farm.
“He was such a spooked horse, you couldn’t even catch him,” Spalding said of the horse’s habit of turning backwards and kicking at people. “He’s calmed down 100%. He’s a totally different horse.”
Bullards Alley acted the same way when he left Spalding’s farm to hit the racetrack but, after a couple of weeks, his demeanor softened as he settled into his new home.
Run All Day
Spalding and McCubbins sent Bullards Alley to the stable of trainer Tim Glyshaw who entered the horse in his first race at historic Churchill Downs in November of 2014. Bullards Alley finished sixth of 12 horses in that race but the really bad news came when the team found out he had suffered a hairline fracture in his shin.
The horse recuperated in his stall and didn’t make another start until the following May. It took him four more races until he would get his first win but, in July of 2015, he won by a neck at Indiana Grand Race Course outside of Indianapolis.
The team moved the horse up to allowance races where he faced stiffer competition at a variety of racetracks in Indiana and Kentucky. He frequently finished in the top three but didn’t cross the line first until his sixth try in a race at Churchill in November.
Despite not winning, Glyshaw learned some valuable lessons about the horse.
"We figured out that he loves to run all day,” Glyshaw said.
After horses cross the finish line, they typically continue to jog and cool down as an outrider on a pony assists them back to the finish. Glyshaw noticed that the outriders were having to work to pull Bullards Alley back to the finish. The horse may not have won all of his races, but he sure did love to run.
A Good Run of Bad Luck
On the day after Christmas in 2015, Bullards Alley won his first stakes race. Five months later, he would win his first graded stakes race in the Grade-3 Louisville Handicap at Churchill on just nine days’ rest.
“Since then, we’ve shipped him all over to run in stakes races,” Glyshaw said.
Unfortunately, he didn’t win them. In fact, he lost 15 straight races, including every race he ran in 2017, but Spalding and Glyshaw saw signs of hope. In many of his races, Bullards Alley got bumped by other horses or he clipped heels with one of the horses, throwing off his stride. While Bullards Alley loved to run, he showed he didn’t like to get bumped
“We just couldn’t even get a break,” Spalding said. “(He would) get slammed on the track or clip heels. If he loses his stride, he’s pretty much done for. If he loses his pace, he’s pretty much done for.”
Despite not winning, the horse’s performances encouraged the team enough to send him to Woodbine to run in the $800,000 Grade-1 Pattison Canadian International Stakes. The race would be the stiffest competition Bullards Alley had faced, but the team believed he had been running well and was encouraged by a race he ran there in July when he lost by only a neck.
“He obviously showed us he liked that track,” Glyshaw said of the previous race at Woodbine.
Bullards Alley entered the race at odds of 43-to-1 against the stiffest competition of his career. When the gates opened, he found himself in fourth place and stayed there until the final turn when he bolted around the leaders and never looked back.
“No hope of catching Bullards Alley,” the track announcer blared as the horse neared the finish. “Bullards Alley has just dominated the Pattison Canadian International and waltzes in.”
The race was one of the biggest surprises in horse racing this year. Out of 91 Grade-1 races this year, only one has been won by a bigger longshot than Bullards Alley and only one race has been won by more lengths than Bullards Alley’s 10 ¾-length margin of victory.
After the race, Spalding said he received a lot of questions about whether Bullards Alley would be entered in the Breeders’ Cup. After all, the horse had just dominated a Grade-1 race similar to the Breeders’ Cup’s Longines Turf.
“We just kept getting asked to do it,” Spalding said. “It was just a once-in-a-lifetime thing. We decided to give it a try.
Spalding and McCubbins had to pay $100,000 to enter the horse in the $4 million race, but the Breeders’ Cup will pay most of the money toward flying the horse to Del Mar near San Diego. The team will receive six seats and a box to watch the races, which begin Friday afternoon and conclude on Saturday evening.
The Longines Turf will feature a number of strong American contenders and a contingent of foreign horses that includes last year’s winner Highland Reel.
So what are Bullards Alley’s chances?
“I think if he gets a good clean trip and nobody bumps him around, he’s got a chance to get in the money anyway,” Spalding said of the horse finishing in the top three.
Glyshaw believes a performance similar to Bullards Alley’s last might be enough to put him in the winner’s circle.
“If he repeats that, he can very well win this race,” Glyshaw said. “We think it’s possible.”